A year later it's still hard to believe that it all happened. But it
did happen: 19 Islamic men commandeered jetliners filled with passengers and
tons of jet fuel, and rammed them into buildings full of people who likely knew
next to nothing about their world views. Thousands died from dozens of nations, plunging us into a world of
immense uncertainty and sorrow.
What do we know now? A few things seem certain to us. First of all, for those
who would try to draw a moral equivalency between the actions of Al Qaeda and
the U.S., that's a level of moral idiocy we're particularly sick of.
We've never pretended the U.S. is paradise, because any rational examination of
the U.S. suggests that it's not. We've made a vast number of mistakes in
every possible field, from human bondage to foreign policy and environmental
nightmares we've inflicted on ourselves and others.
|From Last Year|
|The Day's Events 9/11/2001|
|James Makes A Sad Pilgrimage To Ground Zero 10/29/2001|
|Boswell's View From Europe|
|Those Who Can't Remember The Past....|
At the end of the day, though, the impulse in this culture to discuss our
problems, to argue and debate, usually steers us back to honorable behavior, or
at least to a proper sense of shame which often leads to the same result,
and we've frequently put ourselves and our treasure on the line so that we could
The Wilsonian element of our foreign policy leads us to do things like feed
starving Muslims in Somalia, and to lead the fight to help save Muslims in
the Balkans. The first war with Iraq was a question of RealPolitik, but
nonetheless, we did put our troops on the line to defend Muslims.
Now we find ourselves confronted with enemies who lack a state of their own
but who find sympathetic states or uncivilized regions in other states where
they can plot their murders and wickedness and try to bring down the West and
force Sharia on whoever manages to survive. These men - there is little
need to be modern and inclusive in this context - these men are willing to die
for this cause, and that makes them most dangerous and requires us to take them
more seriously than they take themselves, and they take themselves very
seriously indeed, thank you very much.
Obviously no one wants to be in this situation, but there's not much you can
do to get out of it when your enemies are fanatical and willing to attack you
with an amazing level of suicidal savagery. There's no negotiating
with people like that, and even if one could, one shouldn't, as we learned with
the Germans and the Japanese. While like most Americans (we hope) we have
learned over this past year that Islam is not a monolith, and that while bin
Laden and Wahabbism represent the nutcase extremes, there are Muslims who preach peace
and who abhor anti-semitism and other hatreds, and in the old Soviet Union, even
Muslims with a fondess for vodka and fornication. The Muslims of Bosnia were very happy to
tell the proponents of Wahabbism that they didn't need to be lectured on
Islam. In other words, Islam is as influenced by human nature as humans
are by Islam.
Even though we have no desire to be in this fight, and most of us would
likely prefer that it went away, we can't make that happen, so: how do we prosecute it from here?
Dick Cheney's comments early on that much of this struggle would not be
visible was perfectly legitimate and correct: you can't fight a shadow network
with publicly telegraphed moves. Yet a year on, it seems to us, there are
some things we've clearly learned, or at least we hope we have learned.
The most important thing that has been underscored for us is that yes, there
is a profoundly unique American culture. We are a robust and astonishing
society, capable of genius and the most depraved vulgarity. You could
argue that both extremes are only possible because we do have a belief in
freedom, and since human nature is what it is, that freedom will manifest itself
in both the angel and the sinner, and given the outsized nature of our
civilization, both are going to be utterly unpredictable and either glorious or
grotesque to watch. But there is no Sharia here. You want to be a
moron like Jerry Springer? Go ahead. You want to revolutionize the world with
your invention? By all means. Feminize theology? Make up a religion out of
thin air? Make millions selling Pet Rocks or other novelties? Hey - this is
America. You do it if you want to. You might even get on Springer.
After a year of anger, after seeing those evil bastards slam those planes
into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and seeing American resistance crystallize
in the sky over Pennsylvania, and how quickly that lesson spread throughout our
society, and after seeing the epic heroism of men and women who were free to run
away after all, but who went into those infernos to meet their death, well,
we'll say this: we'll take this country, and all of our flaws and problems over
anyplace else in the world.
There are things we'd each like to change about our country, and things that
you would, too. But in many respects, that's the very point of this
country: to achieve, as Ronald Reagan said, the shining city on the hill.
America is the only nation in the world which was founded as an idea in pursuit
of perfection. We do not have the conviction that perfection has already
been found, whether in a political system or a religion. It's our
responsibility, as free men and women, to honor those who have preceded us in
death, whether at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Normandy, Iwo Jima, a balcony in
Memphis, firefighters or policemen who died in New York and the Pentagon, or
those remarkable soldiers who deputized themselves above Pennsylvania.
We can honor them in two key ways: first by never giving in to tyranny of any
second, by reaffirming our commitment to the timeless principles set down long
ago in Philadelphia, and ensuring that government of the people, by the people,
and for the people, shall not perish from the earth. If we learned
anything from this past year, it should be that we can never be passive about
our own freedoms, and we should do everything we can to help any people who wish
for their own as well. We can fight our enemies on the battlefield, but
fighting them on religious ground is impossible for a secular state.
But by the same token, every heart and every mind in the world wishes for
freedom and happiness, and no one can compete with us in that regard. So
while the physical battle goes on, the moral counteroffensive must be based just
as firmly on our own principles: freedom is a god-given right to everyone, and
it doesn't stop at the borders of the Muslim world. We should be
supporting everyone there who wishes to be free men and women, whether in
Bosnia, Afghanistan, the young people of Iran, or the oppressed in Iraq, Saudi
Arabia, or the West Bank.
Our answer to death merchants: life. Our answer to oppression: freedom.
Our response to those who wish for what we take for granted: Salaam, brother,
and peace be unto you. How may we help you to claim the liberty God
intended for you as well as for us?